Dear Woman on the Road,
Most of us backpack by using public transport, but on occasion I've rented a vehicle, usually to get to difficult places not served by buses, or when I've found several other backpackers to share the bill.
Armed with my international driver's licence and a certain amount of driving experience, I usually tear out of the rental office parking lot into what is usually utter chaos - oncoming cars, swerving buses, undisciplined pedestrians - and I wonder what I've let myself into.
Some situations are manageable, others less so. This issue, I'd like to share my 10 Tips for Surviving Traffic Abroad - and surviving to tell the tale!
This monthly ezine, Women on the Road News, keeps you informed of what's new on Women on the Road and in the big broad world of women's solo backpacking. I send it to you on the first Tuesday of each month.
Women on the Road News: Contents for Issue #5
- 10 Tips for Surviving Traffic Abroad
- What's new: Women on the Road website
- Travel News: Travel Advisor's Top Ten World Destinations
- Cause of the Month: Tibet
10 Tips for Surviving Traffic Abroad
1. Know what side to drive on.
This may seem trite, but it's not always obvious, even in neighboring countries. Thailand, for example, drives on the left, while Burma next door drives on the right. So find out before you leave.
2. Stay off the roads at night.
In Nigeria drivers often turn their lights off at night, in the belief that it saves gasoline. Since driving in that country is already courting fate, doing so at night almost guarantees that fate will find you. Nigeria is one example - dozens of countries have unsafe roads at night.
3. Know local rules.
Post on expatriate forums before you go. Some countries may enforce their rules far differently than you think. For example in Algeria, everyone - including Algerians - will tell you never to stop if you have an accident - or you might be attacked by friends or family of victims. The law, on the other hand, obliges you to stop. Knowing what happens in reality can be hugely useful in deciding what to do.
4. Always check your car in the morning.
Make sure all the bits are there - unike a friend in Cairo who woke up to find her car sitting on four blocks of concrete - tires gone. In many countries you'll be able to pay someone to keep an eye on your vehicle overnight.
5. Always keep your car doors locked and windows closed.
At home this may help you avoid the theft of your bag or shopping. But in some countries where violent carjackings are rife this could save your life.
6. Know the traffic rules.
Do you have to flash your beams around sharp corners? Should you be using your horn? Do red, yellow and green mean the same thing? Who gives way? Each country has different rules and you should become familiar with them. In Switzerland, most lights turn yellow before turning green, to signal that green is coming, and the vehicle coming down a hill has priority over the one going up. You'll be less than amused if you're driving uphill on an icy road at night.
7. Carry a road map with you.
You might think twice about stopping to ask for directions, especially if you are a woman on your own, or after dusk. Maps in developing countries can be notoriously inaccurate but having a poor one is still be better than not having one at all.
8. If you know how to drive one, rent an automatic if you can.
At least you won't be trying to open your car door rather than change gears! Unfortunately automatics are usually more expensive, and in some countries non-existent.
9. Learn basic car maintenance.
No, I'm not kidding. If you get a flat on a deserted road in a country whose language you don't speak, you'll be awfully glad to know how to do this!
10. Take a defensive driving course before you leave.
You may think you're a great driver, but everyone can get even better. If nothing else, this will boost your confidence - a necessary quality when facing six lanes of oncoming traffic in a foreign city. If you're going off-road, an off-road driving course speaks for itself.
For more detailed information on rules of the road around the world, have a look at driveandstayalive.com.
What's New: Women on the Road Website
Travel to Sacred Sites
Not all places are created equal and some places are more special than others. Some are even considered sacred sites, a calming and centering visit for a few hours or a few days.
Why Not Become a Housesitter?
Sometimes we need a break from the road - there is such a thing as too many cold showers and too many picturesque geckoes falling off the ceiling. The solution? You could become a housesitter, and live in the lap of luxury for a while.
For a Change of Pace, Stay in a Monastery
If drab surroundings with paper-thin walls are getting to you, a stay in a monastery might be just the thing - historical buildings, clean rooms, peace and quiet. A bit over the standard hostel price, but usually worth every penny.
Should You Quit your Job to Travel?
Should you quit your job to travel? It's a difficult decision but most people who have done just that - including myself - don't regret it. In fact, they'd do it again - and again - and again!
Reverse Culture Shock: Be Ready for It!
Culture shock is what you feel when you go abroad - and reverse culture shock is what you experience when you come home after a long time away. The best way to beat it? Assume you'll feel it and be prepared.
Traveling the World's Pilgrimage Routes
Women were in past absent from most pilgrimages but today, all that has changed. Women relish the opportunity to travel the world's pilgrimage routes looking for peace or fulfilment.
Trip Advisor's Top Ten World Destinations for 2008
Here's what Trip Advisor - a travel site based on user feedback - predicts will be the top 10 of the year:
- Jerba, Tunisia
- Makadi Bay, Egypt
- Phangnga, Thailand
- Kovalam, India
- Sabaudia, Italy
- Asilah, Morocco
- Ko Phangan, Thailand
- La Plagne, France
- Yangshuo, China
- Kotor, Montenegro
Have You Read 'Eat, Pray, Love'?
If you've read it and it has inspired you to travel, People Magazine may be interested! Anne Driscoll is working on a story for People on young women who have been inspired to travel by the book. If that's you, email anne.driscoll[at]verizon.net
Cause of the Month: Tibet
If you haven't heard about the riots in Tibet, then you are truly on the road - and away from it all. Because the news is dominated by this as I write. Included are threats of Olympic boycotts, ultimatums, and concerns about how far the Chinese will go in Tibet and whether the situation will reach the point of no return.
Tibet has been occupied by China for nearly half a century and its leader, the Dalai Lama, has been in exile in India ever since. China says it is creating economic opportunities for Tibetans by developing the region. Tibetans say they are victims of repression and cultural extinction as a growing number of Chinese move to Tibet for economic or political reasons. Increasingly, angry Tibetans are seeking self-determination and even independence from China.
Politicians and everyday people around the world are taking a stand on Tibet. If you'd like to support the Tibetan people in their fight, please visit one of the campaign websites below dedicated to Tibet's survival.
International Campaign for Tibet campaigns for a political solution and calls for dialogue between Tibet and China.
Free Tibet campaigns for Tibetans' right to determine their own future.
For more options, visit Tibet Sites, which lists Tibet campaigning organizations around the world.
Your Carbon Footprint: how to keep it minimal when you travel.
Thank you for your pages!
Since I've started adding forms to some of the pages on the site, readers have started adding stories and comments. This makes the site much more interactive and informative.
I've scattered forms throughout the site but the main one is on the
Share Your Stories page.
Please share your travel stories with other readers! We'd all love to know about your experiences on the road - they'll be featured in a special section.
And let me know if there's a topic you'd like covered on the site - I'll do my best. Just Reply to this email or contact me here.
Happy travels! Leyla